Chapter 28

from
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
by
Ralph Wardlaw


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Proverbs 28:6

"Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
than one perverse in his ways,though he be rich."

The sentiment may be understood of the "poor man" who remains poor because he will not have recourse to any improper means for bettering his condition, and to the "rich man" who by such means has made his wealth. In such a case, no one will hesitate in pronouncing the man who forfeits wealth for principle to be better than the man who sacrifices principle for wealth, and the man who in conscience esteems the world as vanity better that the man who barters his conscience for the world.

But the meaning may be taken generally, and was probably so meant by Solomon, as referring to the poor good man and the rich ungodly man. The former is "better" than the latter in every view. He is better in real excellence and esteem of character. He is better in regard to his influence in society. He is better in regard to present happiness and true respectability and honor. He is better--infinitely better!--in regard to future prospects.


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Proverbs 28:12

"When the righteous rejoice, there is great glory;
but when the wicked arise, men hide themselves."

"Rejoice" evidently means "prosper, to be in favor, advance to honor and influence and rule." It corresponds with "arise" in the antithesis, which is used for elevation to places of power. When the ruler is himself a man of principle and prefers men of like principle for all the offices of authority under him, when he chooses them for his counselors and sets them around his throne, this is indicative of good times and is a ground of exultation to a community. Then the good come forward, show themselves, exert their salutary influence, and promote the country's welfare. They are not afraid. They are in favor with the prince and find favor with the people. The kingdom flourishes. "There is great glory."

"But when the wicked arise, men hide themselves." The words have been variously understood. The Vulgate has it, "When the ungodly reign, it is the ruin of men." But our own and the French rendering seem to give the true sense. The latter phrase is, "everyone disguises or conceals himself." To good men--those whose services would prove for the real benefit of the country--it is a reign of fear. They are discouraged, intimidated, and obliged for life and safety to keep out of the way. Such a state of things is sadly ominous of all that is evil. There have been such seasons in our own land, seasons when the "excellent of the earth"--God's own people--have been constrained to "run into corners to hide themselves," when unrighteousness and intolerance have "hunted them like partridges on the mountains" and have driven them into the "dens and caves of the earth."

We have examples of both parts of the verse in the history of Israel and Judah. There was "glorying" among all the truly good in Israel when David assembled them to bring up the ark of the covenant to its place; when Solomon dedicated the temple; when Hezekiah restored the Passover; when Jehoshaphat dispersed the Levites through all the cities to teach the law and the fear of Yahweh; and when young Josiah wept and humbled himself at the contents of the long-neglected and hidden book of God's covenant. So was it in the days of Mordecai, when deliverance came through him to his people, and they had "light and joy, and gladness and honor," and "a good day."

On the other hand, there was fear and "hiding" when in Saul's time David was hunted to death; when in Ahab's time Elijah--even the intrepid Elijah!--fled for his life; when the good Obadiah hid fifty of the Lord's prophets in a cave and fed them with bread and water at the risk of his own life; when Micaiah, "faithful among the faithless," had to be sought and sent for, and was ordered to prison for the truth of his words while the hundreds of the prophets of Baal were in favor and triumphed. And what hiding and fear there were when the wicked Haman rose, and what exultation when he fell and the righteous came in his place!


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Proverbs 28:17

"A man burdened with bloodshed will flee into a pit;
let no one help him."

In the Old Testament we find that cities of refuge were appointed for the man who unintentionally killed another. They were set aside to protect him from the avenger of blood, who might rise against him when his spirit was hot and slay him without a trial. But for the murderer there was no refuge and no atonement. No blood could avail for him, no sanctuary could protect him. If he took hold of the very altar of God, he was to be dragged from it to his death.

Such seems the force of the somewhat remarkable language here employed. He shall "flee to the pit." That is, he shall in vain attempt to escape. He may flee, but his very flight shall be "to the pit," to the very destruction he is seeking to avoid.

"The pit" does not here appear to signify directly and literally the bottomless pit, the pit of final woe, but rather, according to a figurative sense of it, covert and unexpected mischief and ruin. The very means he takes to effect his escape shall betray him to punishment. It is in this sense that the prophet uses the term when he says, "fear and the pit and the snare are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth" (Isa. 24:17).

God's jealous regard for the life of man was strongly expressed at the second outset of our world's history, and expressed in terms of evident allusion to the early and awful violation of its sacredness in the antediluvian period: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:5,6).

For my own part, having examined the various principles of interpretation by which those who are for doing away with all capital punishment have explained these words, I have not been able to satisfy myself with any one of them. They all seem to be forced and unnatural, and on different critical grounds inadmissible. I cannot but regard the language as bearing no fair and natural interpretation but that which makes it a divine requisition on the part of man of blood for blood, that is, of life for life. It thus affords more than a sanction; it affords a requirement.

Though I am far from conceiving that we are bound by Jewish criminal law, yet in the law regarding murder there is so evident an allusion to this original and universal injunction, and the language there is so very pointed and emphatically reiterated, that I cannot go to the length of those who would include murder among crimes to be punished with infliction short of death. When the text (Deut. 35:31-33) is set beside the original and universal law, it serves by its very emphasis and decisiveness to confirm the ordinary interpretation of that charge to the second progenitors of our race as the just one, and to show therefore the universality of its obligation.

Those things which have become proverbial generally have a large amount of truth. It is a remark that has been made so often--that the murder seldom escapes detection and the murderer seldom ultimately eludes punishment--that we cannot account for it otherwise than by admitting it to be founded in fact, and verified by the frequency with which it has been observed to happen. The detection is often after the lapse of a long interval, an interval that has rendered the case hopeless and has thrown a shade of oblivion over it. And in not a few instances it has been effected by the means of the most extraordinary, and at times of apparently the most accidental and trivial, kind.

Providence pursues the blood-guilty even when man has given up the search, and brings him to light, conviction, and merited recompense in ways of which man could never have imagined. The instances of this are such as to stamp the seal of truth on the divine assurance, "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man."

One observation more. In light of the above, it can never be a duty to protect or screen a murderer. On the contrary, it must be an incumbent duty to deliver him up. "Let no one help him," says the wise man. It is incumbent on every patriotic citizen, who would not expose the land to God's "inquisition for blood," to hunt out the murderer and bring him to justice. It is a duty to God and a duty to our country. It is a duty even though the criminal were "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh." The only effort we can make on his behalf--and which we ought to make with all solicitude--is to save him from the second death by bringing him to repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.


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Proverbs 28:23

"He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward
than he who flatters with the tongue."

Rebuke is most apt to irritate when conscience, the inward secret monitor, bears silent witness to the truth. None are so irritable under it as those who are previously dissatisfied with themselves. But although irritation may be the effect at first, "he who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward." We should learn the important lesson not to withhold rebuke, when circumstances require its administration, on account of its first effects. We should not look for immediate confession or fancy we have failed just because our rebuke may have produced anger. Let our friend have leisure to think, to consider, to cool down.

It is the same when engaged in controversy. We should not expect a man with whom we have a debate to give in at the moment of discussion. We should state and urge our arguments, but then allow them to be thought of and weighed, that in the moments of calm consideration they may work their way to conviction. The case is not to be regarded as hopeless merely because a man, feeling himself perhaps hard-pressed, has gotten a little heated and spoken sharply and dogmatically. Don't press your advantage too eagerly at the time. Dismiss the subject and let his judgment dwell coolly upon it.

Do the same when you have administered a reproof. If it irritates and draws forth hasty and passionate words, keep your temper. Do not answer again. Say no more but leave him to come to himself. You may then experience the truth of the verse, that it is "afterwards" when you will find more favor than the man who "flatters with the tongue."


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Proverbs 28:24

"Whoever robs his father or his mother, and says, 'It is no transgression,'
the same is companion to a destroyer."

Young people are sometimes apt to fancy that they may make take more liberty with what is in "their" house than what is in another's. They regard the property of their parents in some manner as their own. But this is a sad mistake. Beware of the disposition. There is evil, and there is danger, in it.

First, what belongs to your parents is not yours. And to take what is not your own without express request and permission is indeed a direct breach of the eighth commandment. It is stealing. Do not attempt to evade this truth.

Second, the property of parents ought to be peculiarly sacred, more so than any other. A feeling should attach to it somewhat like that which attaches to holy things pertaining to God and to his service. The violation of their property should be felt as a description of sacrilege.

Third, such action displays ingratitude, disobedience, disrespect, deceit and concealment. I can conceive few things worse, and more ominous of evil, than when a young person practices deception upon a parent--his parent who, above all on the face of the earth, should be treated with sincerity and confidence!

And last, when once ventured upon, this kind of freedom grows. It serves to cherish a covetous spirit. It tempts a man to other thefts. The youth who begins by pilfering at home is preparing to be "a companion of the destroyer," of those who destroy both themselves and others, associates who will tempt him to more extensive thefts and make him a tool for their crimes.

And this suggests a counsel to parents. Beware of being too hard with your children. To give them much money and indulge them in all their desires is to infallibly spoil them and train them to evil. But the opposite extreme--allowing them nothing and giving them no indulgence or gratification, but treating them as if self-denial were the one and only virtue they had to learn--is tempting them to take what should rather be given them, and endangering the principle of open integrity and honesty.

On such a subject, as on many others, no precise rule can possibly be laid down. Every parent must learn to mingle affectionate indulgence with discreet and firm restraint, so as to make your children realize that you wish to make them happy and to deny them nothing which is right and good for them to have.


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